The Guild Leader’s Granddaughter
The next day, before the third bell has chimed, Lutz and I wait in the central plaza for Freida to arrive . Now that I think about it, though, I actually haven’t heard at all about Freida’s hair color, mannerisms, eye color, or anything else of that nature .
“What do we do, Lutz?”
“She’s going to wave to us when she gets here, probably?”
“…I wonder if she’ll recognize us?”
“She will . Your hairpin is super unique, and plus her grandfather is right in there so if she goes to ask him, she’ll be able to pick us out right away, right?”
Lutz, shrugging, points to the Merchant’s Guild building that overlooks the central plaza . As he says, Freida could probably identify us immediately .
“Hey, Lutz . How did it go at your place yesterday? My folks were…”
Yesterday, Lutz and I sold our paper to Benno, then returned home with our first earnings . At my house, my entire family’s eyes all went wide upon seeing the money, and when I told them the story about how Lutz and I had worked to make paper, they praised me, saying things like “amazing!” and “you must have worked hard!” . Then, after I added my first-ever pay to our living budget, we bought a fair amount of a precious luxury item during the winter preparation days: honey .
“How about you, Lutz? Are they happier with you becoming a trader now?”
Lutz, working with me, successfully finished our-making project, and was accepted by Benno to be an apprentice as his shop . What, though, would his family think, I wonder? Would they approve of his enthusiasm?
Lutz shrugs, smiling bitterly . “It went… questionably . They were overjoyed about the money, but they’re still not sold on the idea of me being a merchant . My dad was all, ‘you said you made paper with Maine and sold it, so why not be a craftsman and make paper?’ He’d said he’d happier if I was just a craftsman . ”
“Your dad really wants you to be a craftsman, huh . ”
I understand how someone can take great pride in making things for a living, but Lutz’s dreams are very different . It’s hard to find a middle ground .
“But I don’t want to be a craftsman . I want to be a merchant like Benno, able to leave the city . Maine, you didn’t just want to make paper, right?”
“Right . My next step is to figure out how to mass-produce it . Then, I want hand off the actual production duties to someone else and work towards making books . If there aren’t more books in the world, I can’t own a bookstore, and my dream of being a librarian is always going to be a dream . ”
If I want books to proliferate, then just mass-producing paper isn’t going to be enough . A printing technique is also absolutely necessary . I can’t let myself be satisfied with books made out of loose stacks of memo paper .
…The road ahead is still very long .
“If I could run a bookstore with you, Maine, that would be great! Yesterday, when I saw those bookshelves at the Merchant’s Guild, I started thinking, who’s going to want books? People who can read, so rich people, right?”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right . ”
The commoners in this town can’t really read, so of course there’s no way they’re going to want to buy books . ‘Books? What’re those? They tasty?’ they’d say .
“So, if we’re selling books, then we’re going to want to go and sell them to the nobility of a lot of different towns, right? Like maybe the lord of the next town over, like we saw on the map . ”
When I consider the types of customers that might be buying books, he’s making a fair amount of sense .
As I idly admire Lutz for how he solidified his own goals while silently staring at that map, I hear the patter of small footsteps coming up to me and stopping .
“Pardon me, but are you Maine?”
“Um?! Uh, yes!! I’m Maine . You must be Freida?”
“That’s right!” she says, beaming . “Pleased to meet you . ”
Her cherry-blossom hair is done up in pigtails, and her light brown eyes show a hint of a gentle smile; a sweet and adorable little girl . I don’t know if it’s because of good breeding or very rigorous home discipline, but her actions and manner of speech are more grown-up than I was expecting, in contrast to how small she is for her age . I can’t say much about the person herself, but she gives off an unbalanced first impression .
However, no matter how hard I look, I can’t see a trace of the guild leader in her . Maybe it was just a rumor that she resembles her grandfather the guild master? I’m glad Benno was worried for nothing .
She looks over at Lutz . “Are you Maine’s friend? I was looking forward to it just being us girls…” Her cheeks puff out in just a hint of a pout .
Certainly, talking with another girl my age does have some appeal, but that’s usually restricted to only when the other girl is a close friend . Today, our destination if the guild leader’s house . I have no desire at all to go there by myself .
In response, I immediately grab on to Lutz’s hand, smiling at him .
“I’m not really strong, and I faint a lot, so if I don’t have Lutz here with me I can’t really go outside . Even if I go to Mister Benno’s shop, if Lutz doesn’t come with me, they won’t let me in . So, if Lutz can’t come today…”
Before I can get the words ‘I’ll have to go home’ out of my mouth, Frieda suddenly bursts into a question .
“It’s dangerous if nobody’s watching you, and you faint a lot… Maine, do you perhaps have… the devouring?”
Unconsciously, I tip my head to the side, hearing this unfamiliar term . Frieda has her head tilted in the opposite direction, her hands held lightly to her cheeks .
“Do you not know the word? …How do I say this, is there something hot deep inside you that moves around against your will?”
“There is!! That sickness, do you know about it?!”
Information about this disease, which nobody so far has known anything about, has suddenly appeared from a completely unexpected source . Both Lutz and I lean forward eagerly, waiting for her reply, but she gives a slightly troubled smile .
“…I had it as well . That’s why my body is still so small, you see?”
It seems like both my small stature and the fact that I collapse if I lose lose focus even slightly are caused by this “devouring” illness . When I compare myself to Freida, who also looks like she could be two or three years younger than she really is, I’m suddenly taken aback .
“Is… is there a cure?!”
She just used the past tense . In other words . She’s cured . After I briefly exchanged a glance with Lutz, the question leapt hungrily out of my mouth . Freida lowers her eyebrows apologetically and answers in a low, sighing voice .
“…It’s expensive . Really expensive . ”
“Whoa, it’s hopeless, then…”
For the granddaughter of a successful merchant who serves as the leader of a guild to say something is “really expensive”, then there isn’t the slightest hope that my family will be able to purchase it . I hang my head low, dejectedly, and Freida pats me gently on the shoulder .
“But you seem so healthy, Maine! As long as you keep your eye set on a goal and work towards it with all your might, you’ll be fine . Be careful, though, because if your will falters or you lose sight of your goal, then you’ll face the backlash . ”
I see . It’s because I had my mind set first on going to the forest, and then now on making paper, that I’ve been so healthy lately? When I gave up on my last objective I did come close to death, huh .
Huh? Isn’t this like those migratory fish that literally die if they stop swimming?
I groan quietly to myself as I carefully file this new information away inside my head . My sickness is called the devouring . Today, I finally learned its name . Also, I learned a method to manage it . In order to stay healthy, I need to be constantly moving towards a goal .
“If you have no more questions, shall we head to my house?”
“Sure,” I reply .
The house that Freida leads us to has a shop on its ground floor, much like others in the area . It’s considerably large, and far closer to the castle walls than Benno’s is . In fact, it might not even be accurate to describe the building as “close” to the walls . It is right next to them, and has the best view of the temple that one could possibly get .
“I really love watching the parade to the baptismal ceremonies, you know, and I watch them every single time . During this summer’s parade, I saw that hairpin . It stood out so much for me . ”
If her house is here, then she’d be able to have an excellent view of the entire procession as it enters the temple without even having to leave her front door .
“Since it was the first time I’d seen anything like it, I asked my grandfather if he had any information about it, but he wasn’t able to find anything out about it . Then, in the fall ceremony, when I saw that they hadn’t spread around, I thought it was very mysterious…”
“These do require some time to make,” I say, “so unfortunately I really can’t make them unless it’s the middle of the winter, when I have a lot of time on my hands . ”
Or so my mother insists, I add, in my head .
“Is that what happened…”
“If I can sell them, then you should be able to see many girls wearing ornaments like these come next spring’s ceremonies . ”
“Well! So, that means that I’ll be the only girl wearing one this winter, right? I’m looking forward to this!”
When I see her face light up, I remember how Benno had said “sell it as a special service by the winter’s baptismal ceremony, before it’s even gone to market, so his granddaughter can wear something nobody else is . ” I see now that this would be like a special premium product .
It may be premium, but still, is it okay to rip them off like this? I’d really prefer not…
The building that Freida’s home and her grandfather’s shop is in seems to have been rented out entirely to the store’s employees . Not a single person who doesn’t have any connection to the store lives in this building, it seems .
When we reach her home, on the second floor of the building, I suddenly stop dead in my tracks, stunned .
There’s so much cloth in this room . I thought the same thing when I had visited Otto’s house before, but that was only when I was in his parlor . However, no matter where I look in Freida’s house, I see tapestries and cushions in a brilliant display of overflowing color . Also, on the shelves, there are stone figures of animals and metal sculptures . It is very obvious that this is the home of an exceptionally rich family, one with the political clout to live so close to the nobility .
“Refreshments, young lady?”
After being brought to the drawing room, the woman working as a servant here brings something to drink . This red liquid is served not in the wooden cups I’m used to seeing, but in metal ones .
“Ah, thank you,” Freida replies . “This,” she says to me, “is a beverage made by adding water to a syrup made by adding water to colde juice . It is very sweet!”
Colde berries are very much like raspberries, so I perhaps this is something like raspberry juice . As I ponder, I raise the cup to my lips, and find that it’s much sweeter than I expected . It’s so rare for me to taste sweet things, and I belatedly realize that my careful expression has disintegrated into a genuine smile .
“So sweet! Lutz, this is delicious!”
“It really is! Sweet and tasty!”
“I’m so glad you enjoy it! …Now then, to what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?”
Freida tilts her head very slightly to the side as she asks her question, and I wonder just what the guild leader actually told her . Since I have no way to actually tell, perhaps giving her a full explanation myself would be the best idea?
“To be frank, yesterday, your grandfather commissioned me to make you a hair ornament that you could wear to your baptismal ceremony . ”
I take Tory’s hairpin, which I’d brought as an example, from my tote bag . Freida glances at it, then nods slightly .
“That much I had heard . However, I’d have expected my grandfather to just arbitrarily decide on something like that without any input, though . ”
As expected of a grandchild . She is absolutely correct . Her grandfather had been running wild and ordered this hairpin entirely on his own, intending for it to be a total surprise .
“Ummm… he did say something to that extent, but I personally thought that you’d be far happier with a hairpin that was not only your favorite color but also matched your clothing as well, so I asked him if I could meet with you to discuss what you would truly want . ”
Freida’s hair is the color of cherry blossoms . In other words, it’s a light pink . A hair ornament that was made to match Tory’s blue-green hair would absolutely not fit her hair color . An image starts to form in my mind; perhaps reddish flowers, or maybe even white ones, set in contrast to green leaves to pull everything together .
“Ah, I thought that was a little too unusually thoughtful for my grandfather, but it seems you were the one who reined him in?”
“Anyhow, if it’s alright with you, could you please show me the clothing that you’re going to wear to the ceremony? I’d like to look at the colors that were used in the embroidery . ”
I had intended to dodge that particular topic and turn the conversation away from the subject of the guild leader, but Freida, perceiving this, chuckles softly to herself .
…Are all the children who have had such high-class training so mature?
Both her actions and her manner of speaking are maybe even more adult than mine . At the very least, she’s a very different person from the other kids that I go to the forest with .
“Wait just a minute,” she says . “I’ll go get my dress for you . ”
As Freida leaves her seat, Lutz lets out an unnecessarily over-exaggerated sigh . He rolls his shoulders and shakes his head from side to side, limbering up his body as if staring silently had been a tremendously difficult task .
“Are you doing okay, Lutz?”
“I couldn’t really join in the conversation . I dunno anything about how clothes and colors match up, and I can’t really make myself talk that fancy, you know . ”
When Freida and I were talking, I’d unintentionally started talking in a much more polite manner . Since I had also been very concerned about accidentally saying something out of place, I nod emphatically in agreement .
“Yeah . When you start working, you’re going to need to know how to talk fancy like that, but you can let me do that talking today when we’re asking her what she wants . Staying totally silent like that is probably really hard, but I’d be very worried if I didn’t have you here, so please stay with me!”
Just having a friend nearby is reassuring . Just as I breathe out sigh of relief, Freida returns .
“I’m sorry to keep you waiting . This is the dress I’ll be wearing . ”
Freida has brought out the dress that she’s planning on wearing to her baptismal ceremony . Like Tory’s, white serves as the foundation for the garment, but unlike Tory’s, the material is far thicker . To be specific, Freida’s dress has parts of it that are fluffy, like fur, and it looks very warm .
Suddenly reminded of the countless, countless layers I have to wear during the winter, puffing me up like a ball, I groan quietly to myself . During the summer ceremonies, everyone wears thin fabrics, so what’s important isn’t just the money you have to spend, but also the skill with which the garment is put together . For the winter ceremonies, though, one’s purchasing power makes a much bigger difference, it seems .
“Freida, do you like this color?”
“I do . That’s why I had my dress embroidered in it, you know?”
Having discovered embroidery done in a reddish thread amongst the white of her dress, I compare it to the color of her hair . If I use this color, I should be able to match both her dress and her hair .
“Do you by any chance have any of this embroidery thread left over?” I ask .
“I do, I think; what do you need it for?”
“I think that, for consistency’s sake, I should make the flowers the same color . May I ask you for a little bit of it? I can try to find a thread that’s the same color . ”
“Sure, that’s fine with me . ”
I’ll get a small piece of thread from her, then ask Benno to find me more thread that matches that color . Since Benno has already negotiated a ludicrously high price, I think I can afford to be picky about the thread being used .
“Will this be enough, I wonder?”
Freida returns with a ball of thread so large that she could probably have her dress fully embroidered a second time .
“That’s… certainly enough, but…”
“Then, I’ll leave it in your capable hands . ”
She places the bundle of deep red thread in my arms, leaving me at a loss for words .
If she’s giving me all of the raw materials, then we’re really overcharging her! What should I do now?!
Although, I can’t really say anything like “since the price Benno quoted included sourcing the raw materials, I’ll give you a discount . ” The relationship between Benno and the guild leader he’s overcharging is complicated enough, which is troubling . Plus, in my head, I can hear him admonishing me, saying “whenever and wherever you can take money, just take it, it’s something to be taken . ”
Groaning softly to myself, I take another look at Freida’s hairstyle .
“How were you planning on styling your hair on the day of the ceremony?” I ask .
“Just like it is now, I think…?”
Since Freida has her hair in pigtails, she’ll need two hairpins . I’m glad I thought to ask . Better yet, I’m glad I stopped the guild leader from being too rash . If I’d done as he’d asked, not only would the hairpin not suit her, but she’d only have a pin for one side of her hair, which would have been problematic indeed .
“…If you’ll be wearing it like you are today, you’ll need two hairpins, won’t you?”
“…Ah . You’re right . ”
Freida seems just as taken aback as I am . I’m slightly relieved though; if I have to make two hairpins, then this will be somewhat less of a huge rip-off . Freida thoughtfully taps on her chin, a slightly serious expression on her face .
“I’m going to have to pay double for this, I think . ”
“No, no, since you’ve given me the thread I’ll need for the materials, the existing payment is very much fine with me . ”
Since the production cost has been driven down to basically nothing, there is literally no way I could possibly accept double the excessive amount that we’re already charging . The thought of it hurts my stomach .
“No, but you can’t possibly say that,” she replies . “You agreed to make one hairpin for that amount of money . If you make two, then I’ll pay you for two . ”
“I couldn’t! You’re providing the raw materials, so for two…”
As Freida and I start to endlessly dither back and forth, with her insisting she’ll pay and me insisting she doesn’t have to, Lutz, who has been quiet this whole time, suddenly reaches up to noisily scratch his head .
“So,” he proposes, “how about charging half-price for the second one?”
“Maine, since you got the materials, you want to give a discount . Freida, since you don’t want to cause any trouble between Benno and the guild leader, you want to pay full price for two . How about you meet in the middle, and pay half?”
“Lutz, you’re a genius!” I exclaim . “Freida, how does that sound?”
I jump on Lutz’s proposed compromise, to which I can’t find any objections . I eagerly turn to look at Freida, but her incomprehensible expression doesn’t seem to tell me that she’s satisfied with that .
“I’m… fine with that, I guess, but… whenever and wherever you can earn money, you should take it, right? It’s something that’s there to be taken . ”
This girl has just spouted words that do not at all match her sweet and adorable appearance . Freida is, without a doubt, a merchant’s daughter, and the grandchild of the guild leader .
“…Is that a merchant’s wisdom?” I ask . “Benno said the same thing…”
“Hm?” she says, looking slightly doubtful . “Isn’t that just how commerce works?”
Although she talks as if she’s saying the most obvious thing in the world, I can’t help but shake my head .
“There are limits to that, like, there are fair prices for things, and… ah, well, I’m just happy we found a compromise . ”
“The two are pretty unusual!” she says, smiling slightly . This, however, is no hidden sneer, but a friendly, genuine smile .
We certainly haven’t formed a bond through resolving this disagreement, but I think we’ve worked a little bit to clear the space between us . It feels like there’s a little bit of solidarity, here .
This wasn’t exactly a negotiation to be proud of, but all of the details of the hairpins have been worked out . I’d thought that we’d immediately head home after that, but by now refills for our colde juice have arrived, and Lutz’s eyes, which had been full of silent desire to immediately leave, are now firmly glued to his cup . I myself also want to stay a little while long and savor this sweet flavor, so we spend a bit of time chatting idly .
“Ah, so you go to the forest to pick fruits and gather firewood . That sounds like you’re going on a picnic every day!”
Gathering firewood is pretty essential to maintaining our lifestyles, so it’s actually not as leisurely of an activity as she’s making it out to be . Rather, I’m actually more interested in how Freida lives, since she has no need to go out to the forest in order to forage for firewood .
“Freida, what do you usually do during the day? Kids in this part of the town don’t go to the forest, do they?”
“Oh, what I like to do is… heh heh…”
In a single beat, Freida starts smiling broadly .
“Counting money, I’d say?”
Huh? Did I mishear? Was that my imagination? Did my ears go funny for a second? I can’t imagine that a thought like that would have come out of this sweet, adorable little girl’s mouth .
“Ah, that’s not quite right . My apologies . ”
I’m taken aback by that unexpectedly strange answer, but Freida gently shakes her head and moves to revise her earlier statement . She just misspoke, it seems, I think to myself, putting a relieved hand on my chest . But only for a moment .
“It’s not just counting it, I like saving it . Feeling the heavy weight of a sack full of gold is so delightful, and hearing coins clink against each other is the most wonderful thing! Don’t you agree?”
“…Ah… yes… that might be right . I also like it when my savings box starts to get heavy . ”
After squeezing those words out, I quietly close my eyes .
…That wasn’t a hallucination . Now who’s making stuff up about her hobbies? Me! I am! I’m an enormous idiot! She’s the kind of girl who looks like she should be into making candy or embroidering things, so for her hobby to be money… I hadn’t even the slightest clue .
“Ah! You know what I mean?!”
Perhaps because someone agreed with her opinion, or perhaps because she just loves money that much, she starts getting fired up .
“So, when I was very young, the thing I loved the most was the glittering of gold coins, so when my grandfather did his monthly accounting, I sat with him, and I really enjoyed helping him count his gold . ”
Did she just skip entirely over copper and silver, and go straight to gold? This damn rich girl!
Even as I grow increasingly envious, Freida keeps passionately rambling on . She gets entranced by gold, she says excitedly, to the point that her eyes grow foggy and her cheeks grow hot, etc . , etc . , and she things that financial calculations and growing a business looks very fun .
“And, lately, I’ve been thinking about what I can do to start making more money, so when I find new products that I might be able to sell my heart starts jumping with joy!”
…What do I do? This girl is strange . She’s cute, but far too unfortunate .
“Hey, Maine . ”
“Y-yes, what is it?”
By this point, about half of my consciousness has wandered entirely elsewhere, so when she addresses I suddenly sit straight back up, snapping back to attention . Freida’s eyes are glittering brightly, and at the same time she grabs my hands tightly .
“I’m really pleased with you, you know . ”
“Thank you very much?”
My voice unconsciously pitches unnaturally up at the end of my statement . I have no clue whatsoever about why she could possibly be pleased with me . As I tilt my head doubtfully to the side, Freida draws unabashedly close, a blush crossing her adorably sweet face as she continues to speak .
“Maine, do you want to work with me?”
“She can’t!” replies Lutz immediately, before I can even react .
“Oh my! Well, my family’s shop is much larger than Benno’s, and we’ve been selling things for a lot longer than he has, so this is a good deal for her, isn’t it? So, since there’s no way you’re officially employed as apprentices since you still haven’t been baptized yet, so she can still come do her apprenticeship at my family’s shop! Also, I’m asking Maine . That question wasn’t directed at you at all . ”
Huh? Didn’t something like this happen… yesterday…?
“I’m thankful for the offer,” I say, “but I owe a lot to Mister Benno…”
Before I can finish my sentence with “so I must refuse”, Freida suddenly smiles even more widely, interrupting me .
“Aha! If that’s the case, then I’ll pay him back for you . ”
“Um?! W, well…”
I’m trying to refuse, but she’s not letting me . Those weren’t just rumors . Benno wasn’t just overexaggerating his fears .
She is exactly like the guild leader! Her manner of speaking might be a little different, but she is saying the exact same things!
Her smile not fading in the slightest, she starts rambling off all of the benefits of working at her family’s shop . Lutz is suddenly looking very unhappy .
“Maine, answer her clearly, like you did yesterday . ”
“I, I, I must refuse!!”
Ordinarily, I’d think that being rejected so clearly would cause a child to start crying, but Freida’s eyes merely go wide for a brief moment . Then, her fighting spirit reignites, and her eyes gleam brightly again .
“Well then, that’s a shame . …But! There’s still some time before your baptismal ceremony, Maine, and since you’re temporarily registered with the Merchant’s Guild already, I’m sure there will be plenty of opportunities for me to run into you until then . Heh heh heh, I’m looking forward to this!”
What now? I feel like I’m a rat cornered by a snake, with no place to escape, and a cold sweat breaks out over my forehead .
Benno! I don’t care how much you overcharge anymore, just please, save meee!